The old Lift 2 on Aspen Mountain was down due to mechanical issues, and there was a big ski group in from Fresno. The year was 1954 and the Aspen Skiing Co. did not want to disappoint its guests.
So a platoon of drivers gathered, taking guests by bus from the bottom of the ski slope to the base of Midnight Mine Road in the Castle Creek Valley. From there, David Stapleton and others drove the guests up the backside of Ajax in jeeps, so they would not lose a ski day. Stapleton, 78, said he remains friends to this day with a couple he drove up the hill.
That was one of the stories told during Wednesday’s Aspen Business Luncheon presentation of “Tales of the Early Ski Years from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.”
The free-flowing discussion included Stapleton, whose family’s roots in the valley go back to the 1880s; newspaper columnist and former Aspen Times editor Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, 83; real estate agent Jackie Wogan, 81; conservationist Connie Harvey, 81; builder of the Mountain Chalet Ralph Melville, 86; and John Miller, 81, who has significant land holdings on the backside of Ajax that he at one point wanted to develop into a new ski area. Todd Shaver moderated the discussion held at the Hotel Jerome.
Harvey was an early member of the Sierra Club. In the 1960s, the club’s director, who was visiting Aspen, approached her asking for help. The conservation group was seeking congressional approval to establish Redwood National Park in Northern California, but one powerful congressman was holding up the initiative. That congressman was Rep. Wayne Aspinall, who represented the Aspen area, so the Sierra Club director urged Harvey to begin a letter-writing campaign, hoping Aspinall would listen to his constituents. After showing a film about the redwoods at the Isis, Harvey helped send 300 letters Aspinall’s way.
“We got a Redwood National Park out of that,” said Harvey, adding that she has been an environmental activist ever since. She also helped establish local federally designated wilderness areas.
In terms of local government, the ’50s and ’60s were a different time, according to the panelists. Wogan, who was a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission under the administration of Mayor Bugsy Barnard, described a local initiative to get rid of billboards on Highway 82. Most billboards were taken down voluntarily, but after more than two years of noncompliance from some recalcitrant billboard owners, Wogan said she was part of a group of midnight raiders with Barnard that took matters into their own hands.
Melville came to Aspen in the ’50s after having built homes back east. He said he knew things were “more casual” here, so he figured the building plans he drew up on 8-by-11 inch paper for the Mountain Chalet would be enough. The town clerk told Melville to go see the town marshal, who walked with Melville up to the site and eyed the stakes he had put in the ground to mark off the property line.
“He said, ‘Well, it looks like you own the property, so go ahead,’” Melville said.
“Things were pretty casual in those days,” Melville said. “That’s the way things were done. There was no written agreement or anything.”